IT’S NOT HARD to see the appeal of an online doctor’s appointment. You don’t have to risk catching germs from other patients. And you don’t have to commute to the doctor’s office, or sit around the waiting room flipping through lousy magazines while listening to screaming kids.
But for doctors, these appointments take just as much time as in-person visits, says physician Ray Costantini. In fact, he says that while he was running the telehealth program at Providence Health and Services, he noticed that online appointments could take even longer. If that’s true, it undermines one of the key arguments for online consults: longer visits mean they don’t cost any less.
It’s also why Costantini co-founded Bright.md, a Portland, Oregon-based telehealth startup that aims to automate as much of an online doctor’s visit as possible, cutting the total time a doctor spends on each appointment from about 20 minutes to as little as 90 seconds. Costantini hopes that in the process, it could cut the cost of everyday health care dramatically. The company announced today that it has raised a $3.5 million round of funding to help it meet that goal.
Before you actually talk to your doctor, Bright.md’s app will guide you through a “smart exam” to gather basic data. The app dynamically adapts the questions according to your answers–not unlike online dating sites of the OkCupid variety. Using a proprietary artificial intelligence system, it will give your doctor a preliminary diagnosis and treatment plan.
Costantini stresses the smart exam is only the first part of the online appointment. After responding to the software’s questions, patients will always speak with their doctor. “Patients want to get care from their doctor, not from a computer,” he says. In some cases, the smart exam may determine that an online consult isn’t adequate and that the patient should make an in-person appointment.
Bright.md isn’t the only company trying to give doctors AI assistance. The startup Enlitic is using cutting-edge AI technology to to help doctors diagnosis patients, while cancer researchers are are using IBM’s Watson platform to find new treatments. But while an artificially intelligent diagnosis system is the catchy part of Bright.md’s pitch, its biggest value to doctors might come from its other features. In addition to the “smart exam,” the company’s software automatically generates chart notes and helps manage other paperwork, such as insurance coding. In short, it automates all of the most repetitive parts of a physician’s job, enabling them to focus on treating a patient.